Makirei kehuna -a history and halachic analysis

In it’s orginal chazalic form, makirei kehuna (“recognizers of kehuna”) is an unofficial agreement where residents of a given town or members of a given family accustom themselves to giving their kohanic gift to a specific kohen.

In halacha, a makirei kehuna agreement -הסכם מכירי כהונה-  is a written contract where a kohen signs his agreement to sell his rights of receiving the zroa, lechayayim and keivah in lieu of a monetary compensation.  The agreement is typically dated from rosh chodesh nissan of a given year to be binding throughout the year, and expiring the following rosh chodesh nissan -when it is renewed.

Rabbi Peretz Rivkin of Igud HaKohanim talks about the mitzvah’s applicability in chutz learetz and urges kohanim not to accept monetary substitutes for the actual gifts;


In Tanach

On the possuk (וְגַם עִירָא הַיָּאִרִי הָיָה כֹהֵן לְדָוִד (שמואל ב כ כו, chazal explain the Dovid hamelech was accustomed to gving his תרומות and מעשרות exclusively to Ira HaYairi (a kohen) -essentially making Ira the “mukar” (“recognized”) kohen of king Dovid.

Another instance are the words of king Yoash to the Kohanim;  “וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוֹאָשׁ אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים..יִקְחוּ לָהֶם הַכֹּהֲנִים אִישׁ מֵאֵת מַכָּרוֹ וְהֵם יְחַזְּקוּ אֶת בֶּדֶק הַבַּיִת לְכֹל .אֲשֶׁר יִמָּצֵא שָׁם בָּדֶק  (מלכים ב, יב ו

In mishna and talmud

The mishna (מסכת גיטין ג,ז) discusses an instance where a ישראל lends monies to a kohen on condition that the gifts which the yisroel normally gives the kohen, will be sold by the yisroel as payment for the loan.  The מלאכת שלמה commentary to this mishna explains that the sages permitted this unusual style of transaction to be halachically legal for reason that the kohen should be able to easily obtain a money loan.

The talmud presents a scenario where a yisroel succesfuly performs his mitzvah of giving מתנות כהונה even though the physical gift never entered the hand of the kohen -providing this particular kohen-yisroel relationship is one of “makkirei kehuna”;

A kohen, who is also a תלמיד חכם, and a pauper, and a “kohen mukkar” in that particular neighborhood, is permitted to designate his usual gift to another allthough the actual gift never entered his hands.

In Israel

Rabbi Levi ben Chaviv (5240 – 5301), during his reign as rabbi of Jerusalem, instituted an agreement (“heskem”) with the kohanim to substitute the actual zroa, lechayayim and keiva for money.  The actual amount given was half a silver akce for each goat and two silver akces for each cow.  A silver akce consisted of between 0.4 and 0.7 ounces of pure silver.

Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank (5633 – 5721), during his reign as chief rabbi of Jerusalem, was the first to enact the modern “heskem makirei kehuna” -where the actual gifts are substituted for money but only one kohen is chosen as the recipient of a check but agrees to the transaction on behalf of all kohanim.  Rabbi Frank enacted the agreement with reason that giving the actual gifts would cause great monetary loss to kosher butchers and full compliance with the mitzvah may cause untold (“מכשולות”) “stumbling” to the nation.

The wording of the contractual agreement goes as follows;

Being that from every kosher-slaughered ox and sheep the owner is obligated to give the foreleg cheeks and abomasum but since it is a significant bother to the kohanim to be present every time an the slaughterhouse or the butcher to receive their due, mainly that the kohanic gifts are considered monies that have no claimant since the benefit of the gift giving (טובת הנאה)  is the ownere where they give to the kohen of their choice, and since the modest kohanim refrain from taking the gift and don’t ask for it at all, therefor it was made a custom before our era in jerusalem that the owners give their rights of disbursing the gifts to the shechitah division of the bet-din and the beth-din or its agent disburse the foreleg cheeks and abomasum to whoever they please, and these kohanim sell the foreleg cheeks and abomasum in exchange for a designated amount of money to the beth -din or its agent, in order that the kohanim should not need to be burdened with taking, computing its value and its selling, in name of all this, I, the signer below hereby affirm that i’ve received from the moetzet hadatit the amount of ______, by check number _______ as a loan, and from hence onward every part of the foreleg cheeks and abomasum that you desire to give me for duration of year beginning nissan ____ – nissan _______ is sold to you immediately to do with it as you please -in exchange for the monies on loan to me mentioned above (toldoto hakohen v’halevi biyameinu, p. 79).



Opposition to the modern heskem

Opposers to this modern heskem cite that no individual kohen has the authority to sell and forego the rights of foreleg cheeks and abomasum receipiency of all kohanim.  Additionally, there is halachic concern that the sale amount is far less than the actual money-value of the foreleg cheeks and abomasum of so much cattle.  Too, the agreement may not be full-heartedly agreed upon by the kohen who may be pressured into entering this binding contract.  Finally, the agreement subtracts the talmudic stipulation of the the kohen roasting the actual foreleg and cheeks and consuming them with mustard (Pri Chadash (5417 – 5458) to Yoreh Deah, 61;17.  Mahar”y Courcous (52?? – 5300) to ch. 9 of mishna torah hilchos bikkurim -frenkel edition).

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